On Friday morning in Chilmark, students from kindergarten to fifth grade stepped off the buses at 9:11 a.m., arriving at Coast Guard Station Menemsha with bunches of flowers in their hands.

It was the start of the annual March to the Sea events, where grammar school students around the Island honor veterans who have died by taking flowers and distributing them into the sea.

At Station Menemsha, Coast Guard officers gave a brief introduction on the importance of the holiday before taking questions from the crowd. Teachers corralled their classes while a group of parents looked on.

The students were talkative, asking questions of the Coasties, such as: “How many people do you save from the water here?” “How old are your boats?” “How old is the bell?”

Chilmark School students gathered at Station Menemsha before walking down Dutcher Dock. — Larry Glick

Afterwards, everyone marched down to Dutcher dock where fifth graders Finn Moriarty and Lorenzo Doyle played Taps on the trumpet and baritone respectively, with guidance from band teacher Katie Cademartori.

Poems were read by students, including an excerpt from Requiem by Lenore Hetrick: “We sing for those who once were young / who once were happy / who once were here.”

Then they lined by the harbor and tossed their flowers into the water.

Susan Stevens, Chilmark school principal who is retiring at the end of the school year, said she always looks forward to this day.

“I think it’s really nice and helps [the kids] understand more about Memorial Day,” she said. “This time, everyone wanted to participate with a written poem.”

Tisbury School students are ready with their flowers. — Ray Ewing

In Tisbury, students gathered outside the school just after noon, then marched down Spring street to Owen Park. Crowds of onlookers greeted them with cheers as the school band played Eye of the Tiger.

Principal John Custer gave opening remarks, and sixth graders Kylie Moreira and Isaac Rendon played Taps.

The students then gathered at the gazebo as Mr. Custer introduced eighth grade student Robert Riis to host the rest of the ceremony.

“We continue this traditional event to honor our fallen heroes who have given their lives for our country, our families and our home,” Robert said to the crowd. “The flowers we have placed in the sea represent our gratitude for these men and women.”

U.S. Navy Forestal Crew Walter Burke, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Randy Dall, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corp. Woody Williams, American Legion Auxiliary Gail Burke and Paul Driscoll, and Coast Guard officers and crew from Station Menemsha were all honored.

Into the water the flowers go near Owen park.

United States Coast Guard Station Menemsha senior chief Nicholas Grim spoke to the students about the importance of the holiday.

“We’re gathered here to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we enjoy everyday,” Mr. Grim said in his speech. “There is no greater sacrifice than giving one’s life to secure freedom.”

The ceremony was interlaced with melodies. Eighth grader Michael Rivers sang the national anthem, and the school band led their classmates in a vocal and American Sign Language rendition of America the Beautiful.”

Mr. Custer said he looks forward to the event every year, participating now as the school principal while also recalling being a part of the event when he was a student at the Tisbury school.

“I appreciate sincerely what it means to the community, the town, the Island and certainly our veterans,” he said. “I love being a part of [this event] because it’s important for us to honor what Memorial Day really is. It’s more than just a tradition. It’s got a particular meaning.”

Crowds gathered in Tisbury along the route. — Ray Ewing

In Edgartown, the school band warmed up at Memorial Wharf with snippets of the theme from Jaws as they awaited their classmates. Parent Sandy Fischer was on hand, holding a bundle of purple flowers.

“I came here when I was five years old,” Mr. Fischer said, “This is a great tradition. My grandfather was a vet.”

His children, a son in fifth grade and a daughter in eighth grade, now participate in the event.

The students paraded from the school, down Main street to Memorial Wharf. The band opened with a rendition of My Country, ‘Tis of Thee as the students approached, led by a group of young baton-twirlers.

The presentation was given in both English and Portuguese.

Larry Glick

After the pledge of allegiance, the seventh grade class recited O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman, a poem written following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Chief Petty Officer Gary Kovack, a member of the coast guard reserves who works as the Edgartown School’s resource officer, spoke to the crowd, reminding the audience about the spirit of the holiday.

“We can casually sit back, enjoy backyard barbecues and boat rides and beach parties, but the beauty of Memorial Day is that almost one and a half million men and women have died so that you and I might enjoy our freedoms.”

The eighth grade class recited the Gettysburg Address, which President Lincoln gave in 1863 at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

The seventh grade class then collected flowers from the other students, holding the vibrant blooms against their white shirts as they lined up along the wharf before tossing them into the sea. The flowers bobbed back and forth on the windswept water as the students returned to the parking lot.

Seventh grader John Chandler, who has played the trumpet for three years, concluded the ceremony by playing Taps.

“This is my first year playing Taps,” he said. “I’m happy that I can help honor people in my family and people in other families who fought for this country.”

More photos: Tisbury March to the Sea. Chilmark March to the Sea. Edgartown March to the Sea.